With Halloween just around the corner, many a thrill-seeker are already purchasing their tickets to the infamous prison turned haunted house experience – Eastern State Penitentiary. While this may not be the first sort of project that people think of when they consider the historical properties and developments located in and around Philadelphia, every Halloween, this is a crowd-pleaser. The former prison based in Philadelphia first opened its doors in 1829, and was designed by the city’s famed nineteenth century architect, John Haviland to house criminals. Haviland was a major contributor to the noted style known as American Neo-Classical architecture.
This impressive piece of gothic architecture took 8 years to complete construction. But the concept behind the building took much longer to come to fruition.
Borne out of Good Intentions
In the late eighteenth century a number of prominent members of Philadelphia’s elite gathered at Ben Franklin’s home and discussed their concerns for the welfare of the inmates in public prisons. These group members of “The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons” talked about the need for reform within European and American prisons. These thoughts were related directly to the tenets of Enlightenment en vogue at the time, and provided a marked departure from earlier periods .
Eastern State Penitentiary was the ultimate outcome of these ideas. Instead of simply punishing inmates, the focus shifted to “move the criminal toward spiritual reflection and change”. Not surprisingly, the prison addressed this by enforced isolation of the prisoners. The thought was that this extreme isolation would force the prisoner to truly reflect on their crimes and change their ways, or ” become genuinely penitent”. Thus the new word, penitentiary.
A Notable Decline
By the early 20th century, though, overcrowding forced prison officials do abandon this method of confinement, and eventually the prison closed in 1970.
The facility is now a museum, and thousands of visitors tour the museum and site each year. However, since its closing in the ’70s, there have been many reports of supernatural activity. This has led to the amusement aspect of the prison. Every Halloween Season the prison opens its doors at night as a haunted house known as “Terror Behind the Walls”! To learn more about this unique and historical piece of real estate property visit them here.